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by Christy Tillery French

Bobby McGee cover - Smashwords ready ... FinalI just finished reading Betty Dravis’s new digital book, a short story titled The Search for Bobby McGee. What a writer! I have always admired Betty’s prolific writing style and ability to write in any genre out there and this one is a definite winner.  I really love the unusual concept of this story and was surprised at the novel ending. It’s only been posted for two days, but I was not surprised to see it listed in Amazon ranking as #5 in Teens and Young Adults Short Reads; #46 in over-all literature. Way to go, Betty…

I also enjoyed reading the praises by other successful writers at the front of book, and the foreword, written by esteemed feature film director Russel Emanuel, was awesome. Betty Dravis certainly has friends in high places.

Since I’m also a fan of Janis Joplin and her biggest hit song, Me and Bobby McGee, I was curious about how this multi-genre author came up with the idea for this story. I was happy to find the answer in her author note in the book. This is what Betty says about writing The Search for Bobby McGee:

betty dravis

Author Betty Dravis

Did you ever have a song that keeps running through your mind for years after first hearing it? Well, it’s like that with Janis Joplin’s version of Me and Bobby McGee. I just can’t get that tune or the melancholy love story out of my mind.

I’ll never forget the passionate performance this legendary performer gave and I often watch it on this video. She moved me to tears…and still does. http://youtu.be/6iX-EcRKXJw

Being human, we all day-dream from time to time, wondering if “the one that got away” was our soul mate or not. With that in mind, I often thought about Bobby and Janis, wondering if he was real and whether she spent her life pining for him. Could he be the reason she became a substance abuser? The reason she died so young?

When I learned that Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster actually wrote the song and the Bobby in his song was female, then I knew Janis’s Bobby wasn’t real. But he was still real to me and I kept wondering about him. That’s what inspired this story, and I had hoped in writing it that it might exorcise him–and the song–from my mind.

It ain’t working, friends. I suppose, like Janis, I will never forget Bobby McGee.

booksbybettydravis

 I hope all the Dames of Dialogue readers get your copy of this short story. A warm, humorous adventure awaits you…

To get your copy, go to this link:

http://www.amazon.com/Search-Bobby-McGee-Betty-Dravis-ebook/dp/B00R8NG3HQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1419203054&sr=1-1&keywords=the+search+for+bobby+McGee

Blue or brown? We need your help!.

via Blue or brown? We need your help!.

German Internment Camp in Hot Springs, NC During WWI.

via German Internment Camp in Hot Springs, NC During WWI.

Meet the Characters.

via Meet the Characters.

Laurel-Rain Snow

Laurel-Rain Snow

 

My journey as one of the Dames of Dialogue has been more than four years long, and rich in interesting interactions with other authors.

 
Parting ways does not really mean goodbye, as I’ll be popping in from time to time, to see what the other Dames are doing, and contributing my two-cents worth in comments.

 
During the time I have spent here, I have also kept myself busy blogging, which has turned into something of an obsession, with numbers reaching twenty sites at one point, but now down to eleven.

 
In 2010, I participated in National Novel Writing Month and reached the goal of the challenge with 52,000 words toward a now completed manuscript, Interior Designs.  It continues the story begun in Embrace the Whirlwind, but focuses on one of the supporting characters from that novel.

 

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Interior Designs
Meet Martha Scott Cummings:   an interior designer, an abandoned wife, and a newly single mother to her daughter Meadow.   Now she must begin an interior journey to reexamine the life she had, the choices she made, and to find the strength to begin again.

The manuscript has been through the usual edits, as well as Beta reads.  Now I have to arrange for formatting, book cover design, and publication.  Sometime this next year, I hope!

 
At the same time, I’ve also completed another manuscript I have called Defining Moments.  A story that follows one middle-aged woman through the new life she is forging after her husband’s betrayal.  And his betrayal is not the usual kind.  Not another woman, but a financial skirmish that leaves her reeling.

 

Defining Moments
What moments in our lives define us? Do our choices determine our future?   When unexpected events derail her life, Jillian McAvoy realizes that she now has an opportunity to carve out a whole new beginning.   But something happens to her along the way that threatens everything she hoped and dreamed about.   How can the obsessions and compulsions that seemingly take over her life lead to her newly redesigned world?

 

This story has also been through its edits, readers, etc., as well.  I have enjoyed my journeys with these characters and will definitely share my progress when they are out there in the world.

 
My five published novels are available on Amazon, with the latest one, Web of Tyranny, on Kindle, available there as well.

 
Here’s a blurb about Web of Tyranny:

 

Web of Tyranny by Laurel-Rain Snow is a proud, if poignant tale of Margaret Elaine Graham, a woman entangled in the trenches that epitomized her abusive childhood home only to flee into a stultifying marriage with Bob Williams. Seduced by the hope of achieving her goal of a college education and a life free from domination, she is blinded to Bob’s true qualities—and in a very real sense jumps from the pan into the fire. Oppression begets oppression and as Meg walks a thin line of human betrayal, she learns to stake her own claim to happiness—no matter how high the cost. Her fight leads to politicking during the radical antiwar movement of the 60s and 70s, which manifests as a near-compulsion, which will turn her world on end. Enticed by the possibilities open to her and chafing at the strictures of the marital ties, Meg bolts from the marriage with her toddler son in tow where a whole myriad of troubles await her.

 

 

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To find out more about each of my books, check out my website at http://laurelrainsnowauthor.com/

Other Links:

Author’s Amazon Page

Author’s Blogs

Laurel-Rain Snow on Facebook

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Stitch_Me_Deadly“Fans of the genre will take kindly to Marcy, her Irish wolfhound, Angus O’Ruff, and Tallulah Falls. This is a fast, pleasant read with prose full of pop culture references and, of course, sharp needlework puns.”  – Publishers Weekly

Chapter One

I stepped out of MacKenzies’ Mochas, the charming brown-brick coffee shop and café owned by my best friend, Sadie MacKenzie, and her husband, Blake. I clutched my jacket to me with one hand and my so far unsipped chamomile tea with the other. My throat had been getting scratchy, so I’d taken the opportunity to sprint over–their shop was just down the street from my embroidery specialty shop–at the first break in the rain.

I shivered. Even though it was only sprinkling now, it was a cold rain. But, then, who would expect tropical rain on the Oregon coast in January?

I spotted an elderly woman, dressed in black and carrying a bright yellow umbrella, making her way slowly to my shop, the Seven-Year Stitch. I quickened my step.

“I’m coming!” I called. I reached the door just before she did. As I held it open, I felt relieved that I’d put Angus, my Irish wolfhound, in the bathroom before stepping out. Had he bounded toward me in his usual fashion, this poor diminutive woman might have had a heart attack.

It’s rare that, at five foot nothing, I’m able to think of anyone other than a child as diminutive. But this woman was stooped and frail; and perhaps it was due to her black attire, but her skin had a deathly pallor.

“Thank you,” she said breathlessly, lowering her umbrella and stepping into the shop. She placed the umbrella in the corner. “May I sit?”

I followed her gaze to the seating area. “Of course.”

I took her elbow, fearing she might fall, and guided her to the Seven-Year Stitch sit-and-stitch area. It had two overstuffed navy sofas that faced each other. An oval maple coffee table sat between the sofas on a navy, red, and white braided rug. Red club chairs with matching ottomans completed the cozy square.

I helped the lady sit on one of the chairs. “Are you feeling all right?”

“I’m a bit light-headed is all.”

“Would you like some chamomile tea? It might help.”

She nodded weakly. “Yes…please.”

I removed the top and handed her the tea.

Her hand shook as she brought the hot liquid to her lips. She took one sip and then another before lowering the cup and speaking. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Is there anyone I can call for you?”

She shook her head. “I’ll be fine momentarily.” She sipped the tea again. “I’m Louisa Ralston, and I’m here to implore you to help me find ivy.”

I didn’t want it to appear as if I were hovering, so I sat on the edge of the navy sofa to Mrs. Ralston’s right. “What sort of ivy?”

She handed me back the tea, and I set it on a coaster on the coffee table. She opened her purse–a quilted black Chanel–and removed something wrapped in layers of white tissue paper. Then with trembling hands, she carefully unwrapped the tissue to reveal an embroidery sampler.

I drew in my breath. It was exquisite…and it was old. I’d say it was circa mid- to late 1800s.

“It’s gorgeous,” I said.

“Thank you, dear. My great-grandmother…made it…passed it down through the family for…” Her breathing became more laborious. “Please…help…find…ivy.”

I wasn’t exactly sure what she meant, or why she’d come to my shop, but now didn’t seem like the time to split hairs. The poor thing really seemed to be in ill health. “Of course, I will, Mrs. Ralston. But, please, won’t you let me call someone to come and get you until you’re feeling better?”

She leaned forward as if to retrieve her tea and collapsed onto the floor.

I dropped to my knees beside her. “Mrs. Ralston?” I patted her hand. “Can you stand? Maybe I can help you move to this sofa until paramedics arrive.”

No response. And her hand was limp. I hurried to the counter, called 911, and explained the situation. The dispatcher instructed me not to try to move Mrs. Ralston and promised that emergency technicians would be there shortly.

I could hear Angus barking and whining in the bathroom, but I knew better than to let him out until after the paramedics had already come and gone. I also knew speaking to him to try to reassure him would only make things worse.

I returned to Mrs. Ralston’s side and continued trying to revive her. She was unconscious but breathing, and her pulse revealed a weak, irregular heartbeat.

Please hurry, EMTs.

Although it seemed to take forever, the paramedics arrived within ten minutes. Within fifteen, they’d given Mrs. Ralston oxygen, begun monitoring her vital signs, and loaded her into an ambulance en route to the emergency room. I had to hand it to Tallulah Falls’ emergency medical service professionals. They were excellent at their jobs.

I opened the bathroom door, and Angus jumped up on his hind legs to give me a hug. When he does that, he’s a foot taller than I am. I hugged him and told him what a good boy he was.

He dropped back on all fours, retrieved his chew toy, and trotted into the shop. Before he could discover the open container of chamomile tea and spill it all over my braided rug, I hurried to the sitting area and got the cup and Mrs. Ralston’s sampler. I placed the sampler on the counter and went to the bathroom to pour the remainder of the tea down the sink before tossing the cup into the garbage.

I returned to the counter and sat down on a stool. Standing near the cash register was Jill, who’s a dead ringer for Marilyn Monroe.

I sighed. “Rough morning, eh, Jill?”

She simply smiled like she didn’t have a care in the world. That was because she didn’t. She was a mannequin, and she would smile even if the building were burning down around her.

Maybe I should paint a permanent smile on my face.

Batman’s archvillain, the Joker, sprang to mind.

Er, maybe not.

I picked up the phone and called Sadie. After explaining the situation, I asked if she’d mind watching the store and Angus for just a few minutes while I went to the hospital to check on Mrs. Ralston and return her sampler. Sadie said she’d be over as soon as she helped Blake get some tables cleaned up.

As I waited, I studied the sampler. It had the alphabet in Victorian-style letters–both upper- and lowercase–at the top, followed by the numbers one through ten. In the center of the sampler were a primitive house and trees, the kind of artwork you might find on a child’s stencil.

The sides were little squares made to look like quilt blocks, and at the bottom was a verse:

His friends were those of his own blood or those whom he had known the longest; his affections, like ivy, were the growth of time, they implied no aptness in the object.

I realized I’d love to make a pattern for it and stitch a copy to display in the shop.

I looked around at the pieces currently on display, all of which I’d made myself. The candlewick pillows on the sofas, dolls wearing dresses I’d sewn and embroidered, finished cross-stitch and needlework projects for every holiday and every season…. One more sampler couldn’t hurt.

Besides, a copy of this sampler would not only be beautiful, but it would also have historical significance. I could put a plaque with the finished piece giving a brief history of embroidery samplers in general and an account of this particular sampler. Maybe Mrs. Ralston would let me do that in memory of her great-grandmother. I planned on asking her when I visited her at the hospital.

I gently folded the sampler back into the tissue paper, taking care because the thread was faded and the cloth was delicate. I realized this beautiful piece of history should be framed and hanging in a museum somewhere. I made a mental note to suggest that to Mrs. Ralston…after I asked permission to copy the pattern.

Sadie strode through the door with a tall cup in her hand. “Your tea” she said, pushing back her hood to reveal  her dark hair. “Since you gave yours to the sick customer.”

I accepted the steaming cup gratefully. “Thank you so much.”

“Besides, you’ll need it to knock the chill off. The rain is coming down pretty hard again.”

“Thanks,” I said again. “I’ll be back as quickly as I can, Sadie.”

“Take your time. Things are slow at the shop this morning. I’ll have much more fun over here playing with Angus.”

At the sound of his name, Angus dropped his chew toy and loped over to Sadie. She vigorously scratched his head.

“By the way,” Sadie said, as I started out the door, “your tea came from the same pot as your customer’s. So if you start feeling queasy, call me, would you?”

“Yeah…and thanks for that shot of paranoia.” I hadn’t even thought that the tea could have had anything to do with Mrs. Ralston’s collapse.

“Well, hey, I’m just trying to be on the safe side.”

“The ‘safe side’ would’ve poured the tea out if there were any concerns about it,” I said, “not given it to the ‘safe side’s’ best friend.”

“If it makes you feel any better, I tasted yours, and it seems fine. Besides, you did say the old gal was sickly, which was why you gave her your tea in the first place.”

“Good point. I’m sure everything is fine…with the tea and with Mrs. Ralston.”

That statement would come back to haunt me–and to remind me that one was seldom “sure” of anything. Upon my arrival at the Tallulah Falls Medical Center, I learned Mrs. Ralston was dead.

# # #

Please visit Gayle Trent/Amanda Lee at http://www.gayletrent.com. To order a copy of Stitch Me Deadly, please see Amazon, Books-A-Million, Barnes & Noble, or your local bookseller.

Dead-Pan-248x383“…a sweetly satisfying mystery that’ll have you licking your lips for more!” – Christine Verstraete, Searching for a Starry Night, a Miniature Art Mystery
 
“Murder Takes the Cake has all the right ingredients for a delicious read.” – Ellen Crosby, author of The Bordeaux Betrayal

Chapter One  

            For the second time in as many months, I found myself telling a police officer, “I just brought the cake.”

We were sitting in my kitchen with its beige walls, white cabinets and light-colored wood floor. It’s usually a peaceful, happy place. But then, I’m usually not being interrogated here . . . although, I am interrogated here more than you might thing.

“Yes, ma’am,” the police man was saying, “and the lab has already tested remnants of that cake and determined it’s not the cause.”

“Well, that’s a relief.” It was also a relief to be dealing with Officer McAfee rather than Officer Hayden this time. Officer McAfee appeared to be on the backside of thirty and didn’t seem to rush to judgment the way young Officer Hayden had.

“Nevertheless, ninety percent of the folks who attended the Brea Ridge Pharmaceutical Christmas party are violently ill today,” Officer McAfee said.

“Right. As I said, I just brought the cake. I didn’t stay for the festivities.”

“Lucky you.” His brown fingers fumbled with a small blue notebook. “You didn’t notice anything unusual going on?”

“Like Momba Womba spiking the punch?” With a name like Daphne, I’m entitled to a Scooby Doo reference now and then, especially when I’m nervous. I can’t remember what Momba Womba really did, although I do remember he was a witch doctor. I’m fairly sure he didn’t spike any punch, or else Shaggy and Scooby would’ve been in big trouble. Those guys would eat and drink things found in cobweb covered cabinets in creepy haunted houses.

Officer McAfee’s dark eyes widened as he leaned forward in my kitchen chair. “You saw somebody spike the punch?”

“No, no . . . I didn’t see anything.”

He stood up. “If you think of anything—anything at all—that might’ve made those people sick, call me.” He handed me his business card. “This is deadly serious, Ms. Martin. Fred Duncan is in the hospital in a coma today.”

“Fred Duncan?”

“Yeah. You know him?”
“He works at the Save-A-Buck.”

“Right.”

I walked Officer McAfee to the door. “That’s terrible. Do the doctors think he’ll be okay?”

He shook his head. “It’s not looking good.”

I’d barely had time to put our coffee cups in the dishwasher before my neighbor Myra was at the door. Myra was a feisty widow with too much time on her hands, but she was always entertaining. I invited her in and we went to sit in the living room. I felt I might as well be comfortable for my inquisition.

“I thought I saw a police car over here,” Myra said, kicking off her loafers and dropping into my pink and white checked club chair.

“You did. You did see a police car.” The Looney Tunes reference was lost on Myra. She was like a bloodhound with a scent to follow.

“What were they doing here?”

I sat down on the couch. “Brea Ridge Pharmaceuticals had their Christmas party last night.”

“Were you there? Did it get rowdy? Was there a drunken brawl?”

“I delivered a cake, but I left before the party started.”

“So you didn’t get to see the brawl?”

“As far as I know, there was no brawl.”

“Then why were the police here?”

“A lot of people who were at the party got sick.”

“From your cake?”

I held up my hand. “Definitely not from my cake. Officer McAfee said the lab tested remnants of the cake, and it was fine.”

“Remnants? I thought only carpet came in remnants. Huh.” She folded her legs up under her. “That Officer McAfee is a good looking man, ain’t he? He reminds me of Malcolm Winters from Y and R. Of course, he’s on that crime show now, so there you go.”

“There you go,” I echoed, as if her train of thought made one iota of sense.

“What was it that made everybody so sick?”

“They don’t know yet. Fortunately, the company had some drugs on hand that lessened the symptoms for most of them. They couldn’t help poor Fred Duncan, though.”

“He still sick?”

I nodded slowly. “He’s in a coma.”

“Fred Duncan is in a coma?” She scoffed. “Bet he’s fakin’.”

“Myra, you can’t fake a coma.”

“Oh, honey, you can. I did it one time. Me and Carl had this big fight and he stormed out. I wanted him to find me passed out on the bedroom floor when he got home so he’d feel really ashamed for how he’d left.”

I merely stared at her with my mouth hanging open.

“I took a couple of sleeping pills and laid down on the floor,” she continued. “I don’t know how long I’d been asleep before Carl got home, but he was plenty worried when he finally got me revived. He called an ambulance and everything. And that wasn’t like Carl. Normally, he was so cheap, he’d have just pitched me in the back of the Buick, turned on the four-way flashers and took me to the hospital himself.” She smiled smugly. “Even with our insurance, that trip cost us a pretty penny. They checked my heart and everything.”

“You didn’t tell the doctor you took the sleeping pills?”

“Nah. That showed up in the blood work later. But by then, they’d gone over me with a fine tooth comb. I even got to have a CT scan. Let me tell you, Carl Jenkins never dared storm off and leave me again.”

“I guess not.”

“So, you see? You can fake a coma.”

* * *

            Despite Myra’s assertions to the contrary, I did not believe Fred Duncan was faking his coma. I felt horrible for him and his family. His grandfather and my uncle were hunting buddies, and I knew Fred’s near fatal car accident and resulting brain damage about a year ago had taken a considerable toll on the Duncans.

My niece and nephew were convinced Fred was “crushing on me big time” after he asked my sister a ton of questions about me at the grocery store and then ordered a cake for his grandfather. He’d ordered a birthday cake; and since Mr. Duncan’s birthday was still months away, Fred’s mother had called and canceled the order.

All of this pondering somehow led to my hopping in my little red Mini Cooper and heading to the hospital. And I hate, hate, hate hospitals.

I approached the two elderly women volunteering at the reception desk.

“I’m here to see Fred Duncan.”

One of the women tapped Fred’s name into the computer before directing me to the ICU waiting area. The halls were lined with potted peace lilies. I spotted the door with the sign reading “Chapel” and considered going in to say a prayer for Fred. The chapel would be an excellent place to hide while I steeled myself to actually go and see Fred. On the other hand, if there was a grieving family in the chapel, that would be a terribly awkward situation . . . especially if it was Fred’s family. I took a deep breath and went on to the ICU waiting room.

A nurse approached and quietly asked who I was there to see. I told her, and she led me back to a cramped room where Fred lay hooked up to a number of beeping, whirring, whooshing gadgets. A tired-looking woman wearing a pink sweatshirt and jeans sat in a straight-backed chair by the bed and held Fred’s hand. I’d been standing in the room a full minute before she looked up.

“Hi,” I said. “I’m Daphne Martin.”

“The cake lady.” She smiled wanly. “Now I can see why Fred ordered his papaw a birthday cake five months early. I’m Connie Duncan.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Duncan. How’s Fred?”

Connie looked at her son. “Not very well, Daphne. Would you talk to him . . . let him know you’re here?”

“Of course.” I moved closer to the bed. “Fred, hi, it’s me, Daphne. You’d better hurry up and get well before the Save-A-Buck goes broke. You know they can’t run that place without you.” I looked from Fred’s ashen face to Connie’s.

“Thank you,” she said softly.

“Can I get you anything? A cup or coffee or a soda maybe?”

“Coffee would be nice. Would you walk down to the cafeteria with me?”

“Sure.”

Connie went by the nurses’ station to inform them she’d be back within five minutes, and then we headed for the cafeteria.

“I heard about the party,” I said as we walked. “Actually, Officer McAfee of the police department stopped by and asked me about it. I told him I only delivered the cake and didn’t know about all those people getting sick.” I bit my bottom lip. “For the record, the lab confirmed there was nothing in the cake that caused the illness.”

“I know, sweetie. This isn’t your fault.”

“What happened? How did all those people get sick?”

“I don’t know. I only wish that if one of us had to be sick, it had been me instead of Fred. He’s been through so much already.”

“Do you work at Brea Ridge Pharmaceuticals?”

“Yes. I’m the bookkeeper.”

“I simply can’t understand how everybody—at least, everybody infected—got so sick so fast. Even if they contracted some sort of virus, it usually takes a few days to incubate, doesn’t it?”

“You’d think,” Connie said. “But the medicine Dr. Holloway gave out when people started getting sick appeared to help everybody except Fred.” She looked at me. “Why didn’t it help Fred?”

“I wish I knew.”

We’d arrived at the cafeteria. While Connie got her coffee, I stepped over to the soda machine to get a Diet Coke. I popped the tab on the can and took a drink. She rejoined me and we started walking back toward the ICU waiting area.

“I was impressed by how you found out who killed Yodel Watson,” Connie said. “I read about it in the papers.”

I grinned. “I wasn’t all that impressive. I’m dating the guy who wrote the article, so he might’ve fudged a bit.”

“No,” she said, “I don’t think so. I think you were very brave. You set your mind to finding out what happened to that old woman, and you did it. I admire you for that.”

“Thank you.” Why do I have a huge knot of dread gathering in my stomach? Dread not even Diet Coke can wash away?

She nodded and stirred her coffee. “I want you to do that for me.”

I stopped walking. “Excuse me?”

She’d taken a couple steps ahead of me and had to turn around to face me. “That’s what I want you to do for me. Find out what happened to Fred.”

“The police are already investigating, and—”

“But you’re Fred’s friend. You know him.”

Not exactly.

I started walking again and she fell into step beside me. “But I’m not a detective by any stretch of the imagination.”

“Yes, you are! You solved that other crime and put a killer in jail.”

Yeah. Not looking forward to testifying in that case. Certainly don’t want to get tangled up in another messy situation.

“Mrs. Duncan, I’d love to help you . . . really, I would . . . but the police are doing everything they can. I’m sure they’ll resolve this as quickly as possible.”

When we entered the ICU waiting area, the nurse on duty rushed toward Connie and propelled her in the direction of Fred’s room. Not knowing what else to do, I followed.

The nurse spoke in a hushed but urgent tone. “Fred is in some significant distress, Mrs. Duncan. We’re doing everything we can do.”

“Distress? What do you mean? What kind of distress? Will he be all right?”

If you’ve ever seen a soap opera or a movie-of-the-week, then you’ve heard the beep. As soon as I heard the beep, I closed my eyes.

Please, no. This can’t be happening.

When I reopened my eyes, a nurse was pulling the curtain around Fred’s bed and the doctor was approaching Connie.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Duncan. We did all we could do.”

Connie screamed, dropped her coffee, and threw herself into my arms. “They’ve killed him! They’ve killed my baby! You have to help me, Daphne.”

“I will,” I said, patting her back. I have to. It’s my fault you went for coffee.

            The nurses gathered around Connie. I heard one say they’d called her family. I waited with Connie in the hallway—mainly holding her hand, patting her shoulder and trying not to say anything stupid—until Walt Duncan, Fred’s grandfather, arrived. I then excused myself and told Connie I’d call her later.

I walked down the hall and pressed the button for the elevator. I was relieved to see the elevator was empty. Being in a crowded hospital elevator is especially awkward. Before the door could close, I saw a tall, thin blonde woman with a briefcase and a travel mug briskly approaching.

I studied her while I was holding the “Open Door” button. “Cara? Cara Logan?”

She whisked a long strand of hair off her face with her wrist. “Daphne?” She smiled. “Hi! What’re you doing here?”

“I was visiting a friend. You?”

“Following a story. As always. My boyfriend works with Brea Ridge Pharmaceuticals. They had some sort of outbreak during a Christmas party, of all things.”

“I heard.”

“My boyfriend, John Holloway, saved just about everybody with some kind of miracle vaccine the company has been working on.”

I merely nodded. Just about everybody was right.

“The only guy who didn’t get better right away was Fred . . . somebody.”

“Duncan,” I said.

“Yeah, that’s it. Anyway, his reaction was more severe than everyone else’s, and I intend to figure out why.” She lifted her mug and took a drink of—given the scent—coffee. “I meant to talk to them upstairs, but they sent me away. Even threatened to call security.”

The elevator door opened.

“Oh, well, see ya, Daphne. Maybe we can get together while I’m in town.”

“Sure. That’d be great.” I slowly walked out of the hospital.

Cara was a reporter from Richmond. How her paper had the resources to send her all over the country to follow stories was beyond me. Or maybe Cara was the one with the budget, and the paper just gave her free rein to pursue whatever stories she wanted to report on. Either way, it seemed a bit strange to me.

I’d met Cara a few months ago at the Oklahoma Sugar Art Show. We discovered we were from the same area of the country and had lunch together. Over lunch, Cara had talked in depth about her career. She flitted from story to story and subject to subject like a honeybee in a field of wildflowers. Buzz. . . buzz. A murder in Kentucky. Buzz . . . buzz. Katrina restorations. Buzz . . . buzz. Fashion week in New York. Buzz . . . buzz. The Oklahoma Sugar Art Show. And now she was here in Brea Ridge covering a story involving her boyfriend, Dr. Holloway. . . a story—given Fred’s death—I wouldn’t think Dr. Holloway would want told.

# # #

Please visit Gayle Trent at http://www.gayletrent.com. If you’d like to order Dead Pan, you may do so at Amazon, Books-A-Million, Barnes & Noble, or from your local bookseller. Thank you so much for your interest in Dead Pan!

Bras Cover

“Gayle Trent has penned a wonderful read that this reviewer thoroughly enjoyed and couldn’t put down. Spending the afternoon with Myrtle and Tansie was a delight. A very highly recommended book.”  –   Fallen Angel Reviews

Chapter One  

Don’t that grass smell good? I’ll probably sneeze my head off the rest of the evening, but it does smell good. Lenny is giving the yard one last goin’ over before fall gets here. You’d think that by the first week in October, we’d be through with yard-mowing. It’s supposed to frost tomorrow night, so I reckon this’ll do it. Yard-mowing is something normal though, and peaceful, especially after what happened last night.

Faye called. “Mother,” she said, “has Crimson said anything to you about the thefts that’ve been taking place at her school?”

“Not a word!” I was shocked Sunny didn’t talk to me about it—me bein’ a detective and all. Sunny is my sunshine, you know. That’s why I don’t call her by that hippie name her Mama gave her. “What kind of thefts?”

“Well, on Monday, it was a bicycle. Tuesday a clarinet was taken from the band room, and on Friday, the cafeteria came up twenty dollars short.”

“Don’t that beat all?”  It’s unusual to have that kind of stuff happen around here. We have a pretty low crime rate…at least, most of the time. “Do they have any leads?”

“I don’t know, Mother, but Crimson has been acting really strange lately. When I asked her about the thefts, she—”

“Surely you don’t think she had anything to do with that stuff?”

“Do I think she’s a thief?  No. But I do think she might know something…that she might be protecting somebody.”

I sighed. “I’ll have a talk with her.”

“Please don’t tell her I said anything. Be tactful.”

“When have you ever known me not to be tactful?” I asked.

Faye humphed. “I’ll be tactful and not answer that.”

After that, we said our good-byes and hung up.

Not long after I’d talked with Faye, Lenny called to see if he could come by and mow the yard today. I told him he could, and then I asked him if he’d heard anything about the thefts over at the middle school. Even though he’s in high-school, the high-schoolers and middle-schoolers ride the bus together; so I figured Lenny might’ve heard people talking.

I’ve become sorta partial to that young ‘un this summer. God love him, he’s been through the mill. His daddy had some sort of breakdown—I’ve heard whispers about drugs—and had to go into a rest home—I’ve heard whispers about rehab. Then, instead of staying home and taking care of her young ‘un like she’s got some sense, Lenny’s mother up and takes off to go “find herself.”  Now, if that ain’t hippie nonsense, I don’t know what is. Poor little ol’ Lenny didn’t get to go “find himself.”  He got to find himself jerked up—plumb uprooted—and sat down on Delphine’s front stoop.

You remember Delphine, don’t you? She’s the one that makes that peanut butter fudge that’s so all-fired good.

Anyway, Delphine is Lenny’s grandmother on his daddy’s side. I’ve been hopin’ Lenny’s daddy would get better and come live with him and Delphine, but so far it ain’t happened.

Delphine lives just down the street from me. Hers is the little white house with the blue shutters. It’s nice…neat as a pin…but Delphine doesn’t have a lot of money. That’s why Lenny went to mowing yards this summer…so he could get some of the things sixteen-year-old boys like—music, more’n likely—although he might be saving up to buy a car or something.

He mows for me, Tansie, Melvia…not for Bettie Easton, though. Her snotty little grandson mows her yard…when he feels like it, from what I gather, because sometimes you drive by her house and you can hardly see the house for the weeds. It looks like it’s been abandoned.

Not that it’s any of my  business, but Bettie pays that boy—Brandon, I believe his name is—twenty-five dollars to mow her yard, plus his parents give him a big ol’ allowance, plus they buy him anything he wants. But, again, that’s none of my business.

Still, the Bible talks about sparing the rod and spoiling the child; and that Easton boy is spoiled rotten.

Of course, my own beautiful granddaughter Sunny—or Crimson, as her mother and everybody else calls her—ain’t had to want for very much in her life either. Well, what’s a grandchild for if not to spoil?  I reckon Bettie feels the same way about that Brandon, so now I’ll have to ask the Lord to forgive me for passing judgment. He knows I just get myself worked up about Lenny and his sad situation.

But back to what Lenny knew about the robberies.

“I heard some people talking about it,” Lenny said. “Somebody said a bike got stole, and I also heard something about some money.”

“That’s what I heard,” I said. “A bicycle, a clarinet and twenty dollars from the lunchroom. That’s what I heard.”

“Man.”

“Who do you think would do such a thing?”

“Gosh, Ms. Crumb, I don’t know. I could probably give you a list of high-schoolers that’d do it, but I don’t know any of the middle-schoolers that well.”

“Is there any way a high-schooler could’ve done it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Me, either. All the kids I’ve met at Sunny’s school seem to be good kids, but you never know. Also, I wonder why they’d steal bicycles and clarinets?  Seems like an odd combination to me.”

“They’ll probably pawn ‘em,” Lenny said.

“Pawn ‘em?  Why, that thought never occurred to me. Have you ever considered going into the detecting business?”

He laughed. “No, ma’am.”

“Well, I think it’d be worth you lookin’ into.”

“I’ll think about it,” he said, “but for now I guess I’d better stick to lawn mowing.”

I waited until after Lenny had collected his mowing money and left to call Sunny. Faye hadn’t called me ‘til after the young-un had gone to bed last night, so I’d had to wait until now to call her. Not that it did me any good.

“I can’t talk right now, Mimi. I’m studying with a friend.”

“Oh, well, Claire won’t mind if we talk a minute.”

“It’s not Claire,” she said. “It’s Al.”

“Al!  Where’s your mother?  Does she know there’s a boy—”

“Alicia.”  Sunny huffed. “Her name is Alicia, and her nickname is Al.”

“Oh. Well, I—”

“Later, Mimi.”

And then, I’ll have you know, she hung up on me. I never thought she’d ever treat me that way!  We’ve always been so close.

Maybe Faye was right. Maybe Sunny did know something…and it was up to me to find out what it was. I decided right then and there to go undercover.

* * *

Mrs. Anderson, the secretary who ought to have retired two hundred years ago, sat staring at a computer screen. I cleared my throat, and she eventually looked up at me.

“How can I help you?” she wheezed, not an iota of recognition in her face even though I’d met her just last month.

“I’m here to see your resource officer,” I said. “Would you let him know Myrtle Crumb is here?”

I was glad I’d worn my gray trench coat because it apparently lent me an air of authority. Mrs. Anderson got right on the horn and told Officer Wilbur Brody that I was waitin’ to see him.

When poor ol’ Officer Brody ambled into the office, I could see why he didn’t inspire much respect or confidence, bless his heart. For the world, he reminded me of Oliver Hardy. Remember him?  He was the fat half of Laurel and Hardy. So here was Hardy in a brown and khaki police uniform. I half expected him to waggle his tie. No wonder thieves were pickin’ the school clean.

“Mrs. Crumb?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said. “Is there some place we can speak privately?”

“Uh…sure. Come on back to my office.”

I followed him down the hall. I reckon if you were lookin’ for a good place to beat your head against the wall, Officer Brody’s office would be it. It was a little cube made of cinderblock. He’d tried to liven the place up a bit by taping up safety posters, but it came across as depressing to me…like the kind of place that’d make you want to beat your head against the wall. So there you go.

He sat down at a gray metal desk and motioned for me to sit in one of the straight-backed chairs opposite him. “What can I do for you, Mrs. Crumb?”

I sat, placing my pocketbook on my lap. “I’m here to help you, Officer Brody.”

“Huh?”

“I know about the robberies; and as a seasoned detective, I’m here to lend you a hand.”

“Thank you, but—”

“What evidence do you have so far?”

“Look, I appreciate your—”

“You’re welcome.”  I waved away his gratitude. “Now let’s get down to business before anything else gets stolen.”

“But, Mrs. Crumb, I can’t accept your help. I don’t—”

“Of course, you can. Let’s put pride on the backburner now, shall we?  It won’t cost you a thing to have me onboard, and I’ll let you take all the credit. Where do you need me stationed…you know, to work undercover?”

Officer Brody sighed. “Try the cafeteria. See if they’ll let you volunteer in there if you wanna work some place.”

I pointed my finger at him. “You got it.”  I got up and headed for the lunchroom. Maybe havin’ me help solve this case would be a boon to Officer Brody. It seemed to me he could be a bit more aggressive…plus he could use all the self-confidence he could get.

I went down to the lunchroom. There was a woman there about Faye’s age. She had light brown hair pulled back from her face and she was wearin’ one of them ugly Ruth-Buzzy-from-Laugh-In hairnets. She smelled like fresh bread.

“Hi,” I said. “Officer Brody sent me down here to work undercover. I’m tryin’ to help him catch ya’ll’s thief.”

The bread lady swiped her wrist across her forehead. “Fine with me, honey. We need all the help we can get.”

She took me to a supply closet and got me a pair of plastic gloves, a hairnet, and an apron that went from neck to knees. Now, the gloves and the apron were no problem, but I didn’t care a bit for that hairnet. Not only was it ugly, I knew that thing would tear my hair all to pieces.

“I…uh…just had my hair done down at the Tilt-A-Curl yesterday,” I said.

“Well, honey, if you’re gonna work here, you’ve gotta wear the hairnet.”

I sucked up my pride and put the darn thing on. Sometimes you’ve got to make sacrifices in the detective business.

They were making hamburgers and French fries for lunch. The rolls were fresh, but the hamburger patties and French fries came out of the freezer in bags. We were givin’ the young ‘uns canned peaches for dessert. Not a lot of cooking involved, but the students didn’t complain. I guess they were used to it. Most of them have probably grown up eating fast food and done-fixed, heat-em-up meals. Still, I couldn’t help feeling like these young ‘uns were getting gypped.

I was spooning peach halves onto trays when I heard somebody say, “Good afternoon, Ms. Crumb. What a pleasant surprise seeing you here.”

It was Brandon Easton, Bettie’s grandson. You know who he reminds me of?  That Eddie Haskell from “Leave It To Beaver.”  Nice to your face and smarmy behind your back.

“Hello, Brandon,” I said. “For some reason I’d have pegged you for somebody who’d pack his lunch.”  I meant I figured he was too good to eat in the lunchroom with everybody else.

He smiled. “Not today when you fine ladies are serving an American classic.”

See what I mean about Eddie Haskell?

“Are you working here now?” he asked.

“No, not really. These ‘fine ladies’ were a little short-handed today so I volunteered to pitch in.”

“That was very magnanimous of you.”

“Thank you.” I tried to either come up with a big word of my own or to say something that would show him I knew exactly what “magnanimous” means. Before I could do either, I spotted Sunny coming through the line. And she spotted me. Normally, that would be a good thing, but I could tell by the look on her face it wasn’t a good thing today.

I put my head down and went back to slopping peaches on trays until she got to me. I let her speak first because I thought she might want to pretend she didn’t know me. Wasn’t that magnanimous of me?

“Mimi,” she said through clenched teeth, her eyes darting from side to side. “What are you doing here?”

“I thought I’d volunteer at your school today.”  I smiled. She didn’t.

A girl behind her who had the too mature, too perfect look of a dark-haired Britney Spears doll said, “You’re holding up the line, Crim.”

The starlet smiled at me, and I smiled back at her. “Are you a friend of Su—Crimson’s?” I asked.

Sunny hurried on down the line as the woman-child said, “Yeah. I’m new here, and Crim and I really bonded, you know?”

Then it dawned on me. “You must be Alicia.”

Another blinding smile—this time with a hair toss thrown in for good measure. “Al. That’s me. How do you know Crim?”

“I know her mother.”

Al nodded, took her tray, and moved along.

Near the end of the line trailed Claire, the girl who’d been Sunny’s best friend since they’d been in second grade. Poor little ol’ Claire looked like she’d lost her best friend…and she very well might have. Unlike the diva Alicia, Claire was wearing loose-fitting jeans and a top that covered her entire upper torso.

“Hi, darlin’,” I said. “Something wrong?”

Claire shook her head. “Nah, not really. How’re you, Ms. Crumb?”

“I’m okay. Listen, do you have a few minutes after lunch?”

She lifted one shoulder. “I guess. I’m supposed to go to study hall, but if you need something—”

“I’d like to talk with you a minute is all. I can have Officer Brody clear it with the study hall.”

“Officer Brody?  Am I in trouble?”

“No, honey. It’s just that he’s the only person I know here, so I thought I’d ask him to take care of it.”

“Okay. I’ll come back here right after lunch.”

A few minutes later, Officer Brody came through the lunch line. Would you believe he looked surprised to see me?

“Mrs. Crumb, what are you doing here?”

Then it hit me. He was trying not to blow my cover.

“I just thought I’d help out the lunch ladies for awhile today,” I told him. I winked to clue him in to the fact that I understood the undercover game well.

He still looked confounded. Maybe he was better at his job than I’d originally given him credit for. Sometimes first impressions can be deceiving…although I didn’t think my first impression of Alicia or “Al” was all that far off the mark.

I leaned closer to Officer Brody so I could lower my voice. “Claire Davies will be a little late to study hall today. Clear that with her teacher, will you?”

“Uh…sure. I’ll do that.”

I nodded and gave the good man an extra spoonful of peaches. I intended to get the scoop on “Al” from Claire. Somebody who could make Sunny ditch both her best friend and her grandmother couldn’t be a good influence.

When Claire came into the kitchen after she ate her lunch, I took her out the door where the trucks make their deliveries. We sat down on the stoop.

“How’s school goin’ so far this year?” I asked her.

She lifted a bony shoulder. “All right, I guess.”

“You don’t look like it’s all right.”  I brushed a strand of her blonde hair back off her face with my fingertips. “What’s the matter?”

God love her, she looked at me then and them big green eyes of hers were just full of tears. “Nobody cares about me anymore.”

“Baloney,” I said. “I care about you, and I know your Mama and Daddy love you better than anything on God’s green earth. Sunny cares about you.”

“Crimson don’t care about anybody except Al.”

I frowned. “I met Al today when she came through the lunch line. I don’t quite know what to make of her.”  I waited for Claire to tell me what she thought of Al, but she didn’t. “Is she new here?”

Claire nodded. “She started a couple weeks into the school year. She was really behind in math class; and since Crimson makes some of the best grades in class, Ms. Kuzco asked her to tutor Al a few afternoons after school.”

“So that’s how they became friends.”

“Yep,” she said, flicking an ant off the top step. “Now they’re thicker than thieves.”

“Speaking of thieves, have you heard anything about those robberies around here?”

Claire bit her bottom lip. “I don’t wanna talk about it.”

“Do you know something that might help me and Officer Brody find out who’s been doing this?”

“I said I don’t wanna talk about it.”

I put my hand on her shoulder. “Please, baby, if you know something, tell me. I promise not to tell who told.”

She put her head in her hands. “I can’t.”

At least, I believe that’s what she said. It was muffled.

“They have that on all them detective shows on television. Never reveal your sources. That’s what they say. And sometimes when they’re talkin’ about true stories, they’ll even black out the people’s faces so you can’t tell who they are.”  I shook my head. “Still, I often wonder if it was somebody you knew, if you’d be able to tell it was them anyway. You know what I mean?  Say, they said it was an anonymous source that worked at the Piggly Wiggly, and I knew you worked at the Piggly Wiggly and—”

“Crimson,” she said.

“What, sweetie?”  I was still tryin’ to get my mind around whether or not I could recognize an anonymous source with a blacked out face if it was somebody I knew. I believe I could. Even if their voice was disguised, I think I could do it.

“Crimson.”

I looked over at Claire. “What about her?”

“I think….”  She bit her lip again. “I think she might be involved with the robberies.”

# # #

Please visit Gayle Trent at http://www.gayletrent.com. When Good Bras Go Bad is available only on Kindle. On the bright side, it’s only ninety-nine cents! 🙂

Quick-and-the-Thread2-186x300“If her debut here is any indication, Lee’s new series is going to be fun, spunky and educational. She smoothly interweaves plot with her character’s personality and charm, while dropping tantalizing hints of stitching projects and their history. Marcy Singer is young, fun, sharp and likable. Readers will be looking forward to her future adventures.” – Pat Cooper, RT Book Reviews (RT Book Reviews nominated The Quick and the Thread for a 2010 Book Reviewers’ Choice Award in the Amateur Sleuth category)

Chapter One 

Just after crossing over. . . under . . . through. . . the covered bridge, I could see it. Barely. I could make out the top of it, and that was enough at the moment to make me set aside the troubling grammatical conundrum of whether one passes over, under or through a covered bridge.

“There it is,” I told Angus, my best buddy in the whole wide world. “There’s our sign!”

He “woofed” which could mean anything from “I gotta pee” to “yay!” I went with “yay.”

“Me, too! I’m so excited.”

I was closer to the store now and could really see the sign.

I pointed. “See, Angus?” My voice was barely above a whisper. “Our sign.”

     The Seven Year Stitch.

I named the shop The Seven Year Stitch for three reasons. One, it’s an embroidery specialty shop. Two, I’m a huge fan of classic movies. And, three, it actually took me seven years to turn my dream of owning an embroidery shop into a reality.

Once upon a time, in a funky cool land called San Francisco, I was an accountant. Not a funky cool job, believe me, especially for a funky cool girl like me. . . Marcy Singer. I had a corner cubicle near a window. You’d think the window would be a good thing, but it looked out upon a vacant building that grew more dilapidated by the day. Maybe by the hour. It was majorly depressing. One year, a coworker gave me a cactus for my birthday. I sat it in that window, and it died. I told you it was depressing.

Still, my job wasn’t that bad. I can’t say I truly enjoyed it, but I am good with numbers and the work was tolerable. Then I got the call from Sadie. Not “a” call, mind you, “the” call.

“Hey, girl. Are you sitting down?”

“Sadie, I’m always sitting down. I keep a stationary bike frame and pedal it under my desk so my leg muscles won’t atrophy.”

“Good. The hardware store next to me just went out of business.”

“And this is good because you hate the hardware guy?”

She gave me an exasperated huff. “No, silly. It’s good because the space is for lease. I’ve already called the landlord, and he’s giving you the opportunity to snatch it up before anyone else does.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” I said. “You expect me to come up there to Quaint City, Oregon—”

“TallulahFalls, thank you very much.”

“—and set up shop? Just like that?”

“Yes! It’s not like you’re happy there or like you’re on some big five-year career plan.”

“Thanks for reminding me.”

“And you’ve not had a boyfriend or even a date for over a year now.”

“Once again, thank you for the painful reminder.”

“So what’s keeping you there? This is your chance to open up the embroidery shop you used to talk about all the time in college.”

“But what do I know about actually running a business?”

Sadie huffed. “You can’t tell me you’ve been keeping companies’ books all these years without having picked up some pointers about how to—and how not to—run a business.”

“You’ve got a point there. But what about Angus?”

“Girl, he will love it here! He can come to work with you every day, run up and down the beach . . . . Isn’t that better than the situation he has now?”

I swallowed a lump of guilt the size of my fist.

“You’re right, Sadie,” I’d admitted. “A change will do us both good.”

That had been a month ago. Now I was a resident of Tallulah Falls, Oregon; and today was the grand opening of The Seven Year Stitch.

A cool breeze off the ocean ruffled my hair as I hopped down out of the bright red Jeep I’d bought to traipse up and down the coast in.

“Come on, Angus.”

He followed me out of the Jeep and trotted beside me up the river rock steps to the walk that connected all the shops on this side of the street. The shops on the other side of the street were set up in a similar manner, giving the town square a strong community feel. TallulahFalls billed itself as the friendliest town on the OregonCoast, and so far I had no reason to doubt that claim.

I unlocked the door and flipped the “Closed” sign to “Open” before turning to survey the shop. It was if I was seeing it for the first time. And, in a way, I was. I’d been here until nearly midnight last night putting the finishing touches on everything. This was my first look at the finished project. Like all my finished projects, I tried to view it objectively. But, like all my finished projects, I looked upon this one as a cherished child.

The floor was black and white tile, laid out like a gleaming chess board. All my wood accents were maple. I had maple bins in the floor to my left holding cross-stitch threads and yarns. When the customer first comes in the door, she’ll see the cross-stitch threads. They start in white and go through shades of ecru, pink, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, gray and black. The yarns are organized the same way on the opposite side. Perle flosses, embroidery hoops, needles and cross-stitch kits hang on maple-trimmed corkboard over top of the bins. On the other side of the corkboard on the side with the yarn, there are knitting needles, crochet hooks, tapestry needles and needlepoint kits.

The walls are covered by shelves where I display pattern books, dolls with dresses I’ve designed and embroidered, and framed samplers. I have some dolls for those who like to sew and embroider outfits (like me) as well as for those who enjoy knitting and crocheting doll clothes.

Standing near the cash register is my life-size mannequin who bears a striking resemblance to Marilyn Monroe, especially since I put a short, curly blonde wig on her and did her makeup. I even gave her a mole . . . er, beauty mark. I call her Jill. I was going to name her after Marilyn’s character in The Seven Year Itch, but she didn’t have a name in that movie. Can you believe that? A main character with no name? She was simply billed as “The Girl.” So I call the mannequin Jill.

To the right of the door is the sitting area. As much as I love to play in the “stuff” displayed all over the store, I think the sitting area is my favorite place in the shop. Two navy overstuffed sofas face each other across an oval maple coffee table. The table sits on a navy, red and white braided rug. There are red club chairs with matching ottomans near either end of the coffee table, and candlewick pillows with lace borders are scattered over both the sofas. I made those, too. The pillows, not the sofas.

The bell over the door jingled, and I turned to see Sadie walking in with a travel coffee mug.

I smiled. “Is that what I think it is?”

“It is, if you think it’s a nonfat vanilla latte with a hint of cinnamon.” She handed me the mug. “Welcome to the neighborhood.”

“Thank you. You’re the best.” The steaming mug felt good in my hands. I looked back over the store. “It looks good, doesn’t it?”

“It looks fantastic. You’ve outdone yourself.” She cocked her head. “Is that what you’re wearing tonight?”

Happily married for the past five years, Sadie was always eager to play matchmaker for me. I hid a smile and held the hem of my vintage tee as if it were a dress. “You don’t think Snoopy’s Joe Cool is appropriate for the grand opening party?”

Sadie closed her eyes.

“I have a super cute dress for tonight,” I said with a laugh, “and Mr. O’Ruff will be sporting a black tie for the momentous event.”

Angus wagged his tail at the sound of his surname.

“Girl, you and that pony!” Sadie scratched Angus behind the ears.

“He’s a proud boy. Aren’t you, Angus?”

Angus barked his agreement, and Sadie chuckled.

“I’m proud, too . . . of both of you.” She grinned. “I’d better get back over here to Blake. I’ll be back to check on you again in a while.”

Though we’re the same age and had been roommates in college, Sadie clucks over me like a mother hen. It’s sweet, but I can do without the fix-ups. Some of these guys she’s tried to foist off on me, I have no idea where she got them . . . mainly because I’m afraid to ask.

I went over to the counter and placed my honking yellow purse and floral tote bag on the bottom shelf before finally taking a sip of my latte.

“That’s yummy, Angus. It’s nice to have a friend who owns a coffee shop, isn’t it?”

Angus lay down on the large bed I’d put behind the counter for him.

“That’s a good idea,” I told him. “Rest up. We’ve got a big day and an even bigger night ahead of us.”

* * *

     The day passed quickly. Some Tallulah Falls residents stopped by to wish me well, many bought threads, patterns and fabrics, and most promised to return for tonight’s festivities. Sadie and Blake had enjoyed a busy day next door at MacKenzies’ Mochas, too. But Sadie had stopped in for a quick hello after the lunch rush.

I slipped the black lace dress over my head and smoothed the material over my hips. The dress came to just above my knees, but it didn’t do much to make me look taller. Maybe the four-inch high red stilettos would help. The black did make my pale skin and platinum hair stand out, especially with my splash of red lipstick. I was going for an “old Hollywood” look, and I think I was pulling if off rather well.

My mind drifted back to Mom as I dug through my jewelry box for the pair of jet beaded chandelier earrings I love so much. Here Angus and I had gone and “loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly.” Actually, we’d moved away from Beverly. Singer, that is . . . a/k/a Mom. Costume designer extraordinaire. Complete with “swimming pools and movie stars.”

I gave myself a mental shake. Why in the world was I thinking The Beverly Hillbillies theme song? Of course, thinking about The Beverly Hillbillies brought Buddy Ebsen to mind; and that, in turn, made me remember he’d played Audrey Hepburn’s estranged husband in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Random trivia seems to be always lurking just beyond the forefront of my mind.

I took a long black cigarette filter from inside my jewelry box and placed it between my teeth. Mom had given it to me years ago. It had been a prop on some movie set. God only knew who had used it, so she’d insisted on scalding it before giving it to me. Good thing. While I’ve never been a smoker, I used to love pretending to use the long black cigarette filter. Even Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo used one to make her look sophisticated after she and Ethel had attended charm school.

Leaving Mom behind in San Francisco had been the one drawback to my moving to TallulahFalls. I wished Mom could have made the party tonight, but she’s currently in New   York on a movie set. It’s par for the course. In many ways, I grew up privileged. But I was lonely for my mother who was often on location somewhere; and since Dad had died when I was very young, I’d often been left in the care of my nanny.

I have to give Mom credit for passing along to me a love of textiles, though. When she was home, Mom would often allow me to come to the studio and help work with the fabrics. She’d wanted me to go into fashion and costume design. A rebellious little snot at the time, I’d told her I wanted a “more stable and reliable career.” Mom said I’d be bored with a reliable career; and while I’d admitted accounting wouldn’t be as exciting as dressing Hollywood’s A-listers, it would allow me to be home for my family, should I ever be fortunate enough to have one. Told you I was a rebellious little snot. That comment had hurt Mom. And I’d meant for it to. At the time I wouldn’t have taken it back for anything in the world . . . even if I could have. Now that I was a wee bit older and wiser, I regretted it.

During my rebellious teen years, I even stopped going to Mom’s studio. It was like I was spiting her, but I was really only hurting myself. I hadn’t realized that until I was in college. I’d come back to the apartment one evening to find Sadie laboriously trying to embroider a pair of jeans. I took over the task and rediscovered my love for the craft. Still, I was too proud to admit that to Mom; so I’d sucked it up and embarked upon my career in accounting.

I found the chandelier earrings and put them on. Taking one last imaginary puff from the cigarette filter, I placed it back in the jewelry box.

I called Angus to me and put his black bow tie around his neck. Then I batted my lashes at him and imitated Bette Davis: “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

* * *

When Angus and I got to the shop, Sadie and Blake were already there setting up a refreshment buffet on the counter.

“We used the key you gave me,” Sadie said. “I hope you don’t mind.”

“Why would I mind? I just wish I’d arrived earlier. You two already have all the work done.” I inhaled deeply, savoring the chocolate-vanilla scented air. “Everything looks—and smells—delicious.”

“And you look beautiful,” Blake said. “Todd will be thrilled.”

“Blake!” Sadie frowned at her husband.

I looked from one to the other. “Who’s Todd?”

Blake looked at Sadie. “You didn’t tell her?”

“Tell me what?”

The pair continued conversing as if I hadn’t spoken. That made me even more nervous that I already was.

“Of course, I didn’t tell her,” Sadie said. “I didn’t want her to think I was trying to fix her up.”

“You mean you’re not?”

Sadie sighed. “Not exactly. I wanted to introduce the two of them, that’s all . . . nothing more.”

“Uh-huh.” Blake grinned knowingly. “That’s all, huh?”

Sadie swatted at him playfully with a paper plate, and he pulled her to him for a quick kiss.

They’re a sweet couple . . . well-suited, even though on the surface they appear to be such opposites. Sadie is tall and dark. She has an almost European look about her. Blake is only an inch or two taller than his wife, stockily built with blue eyes and light blond hair. They’re opposites in other ways as well: Sadie loves football, Blake prefers hockey; Sadie likes corny horror flicks, Blake likes corny comedies; Sadie enjoys reading the classics, Blake’s reading seems to be confined to blogs . . . really dorky blogs, to be exact. And yet, you can look at them and see how much they love each other, how compatible they truly are.

I hope to find a love like that myself one day. But based on Sadie’s previous attempts, I doubt I’ll find it with this Todd guy. Or anyone else Sadie happens to dig out from under a rock.

“Blake is right about you looking beautiful,” Sadie said. “Though how you walk in those shoes, I’ll never know.”

“You’ll never have to find out,” I said. “You’re tall enough without them. And you look terrific, by the way.”

Sadie looked down at her navy dress with the beaded bodice. “Aw, this old thing?” She winked, as Blake rolled his eyes.

I went to take a closer look at the refreshments while Blake fed Angus a shortbread cookie. There was a carafe of hot chocolate and another of hazelnut mocha coffee. I thought fleetingly of asking the MacKenzies about a pot of decaf but decided not to. Let everyone eat, drink and be wired.

Besides the aforementioned shortbread cookies, there were smores, chocolate chip cookies and peanut butter crinkles. The napkins had The Seven Year Stitch superimposed over an image of Marilyn Monroe standing on a grate with her dress billowing about her thighs. Blake had found the napkins online somewhere. Blake could find anything online.

I turned back to my friends. “Thank you so much, guys. This means a lot to me.”

Sadie smiled. “You’re welcome. You mean a lot to us.”

That’s when I knew I’d have to give this Todd guy a chance . . . no matter what he might be like.

“Will you help me keep an eye on Angus tonight?” I asked. “You know he has no problem reaching the counter; and with everybody’s attention diverted, he might just give in to temptation.” I looked at Angus who wagged his tail and looked up at me with a “who me?” expression.

“Yeah, especially since Blake has already got him started on those shortbread cookies,” Sadie said. “They’re addictive. Trust me, I know.”

“Sorry.” Blake looked sheepish but slipped another cookie behind his back to Angus.

The bell over the door heralded the first guest.

“Am I too early?”

Before I could turn to see who’d spoken, I was struck by “The Voice.” It was a deep, melodic Pernell-Roberts-as-Adam-Cartwright voice, and it was as smooth and delicious as warm maple syrup dripping off a hot pancake on an icy January morning. I turned, half expecting to be disappointed when I saw the man with “The Voice.” I was not disappointed.

“You’re right on time,” I said, taking in the man’s thick dark hair and sparkling brown eyes. I held out my hand. “I’m Marcy Singer. Welcome to The Seven Year Stitch.”

From the corner of my eye, I noticed Sadie and Blake elbowing each other as the man encased my hand in his own.

“Nice to meet you, Marcy. I’m Todd Crowell.”

Angus placed his big snout on our clasped hands to effectively end the handshake.

“Well, hey, big fellow,” Todd said. “Do you embroidery, or are you only here for the party?”

“He’s here for the shortbread,” Blake said.

To everyone’s delight, Angus sat and offered Todd his large gray paw to shake.

Wow, I thought, even Angus approves. I caught Sadie’s eye and gave her an appreciative smile. If she’d dug Todd Crowell out from under a rock, that rock must’ve been a diamond.

* * *

     Before I really knew what was happening, the shop was full. Sadie and Blake introduced me to the people I hadn’t met earlier in the day. Still, it was going to be hard to remember everyone.

I looked around the room and caught sight of Todd Crowell. He was bending over to hear what some short older woman with her hair in a super severe bun was telling him. When he caught my eye, he raised his coffee cup in a salute.

I grinned. There was at least one person here I’d have no trouble remembering.

I sought out Angus and spotted him sitting beside a lovely girl with honey-colored hair. The girl was stroking Angus’ head and speaking to him softly.

“Hi, I’m Marcy,” I said, approaching the girl. I nodded at Angus. “Angus likes you.”

“Thanks. I like him, too. People say I’m good with dogs.”

“You sure are.”

From the corner of my eye, I glimpsed a lanky, unkempt man wearing dirty jeans and a trucker cap coming toward us. He staggered into me and caused me to stumble. Angus stiffened as I caught the back of the red chair to steady myself.

“It’s okay, Angus,” I said softly.

“I needa talk wif you,” the man said.

“Okay.”

The man was obviously drunk, and he was making me uneasy. I walked slowly away from Angus so the dog wouldn’t sense my anxiety. The man followed with an unsteady gait.

“Dis used to be my store,” the man said.

“Oh, then you must be Mr. Enright,” I said.

“Yep. Tim Enright. Thirty years . . . this was Enright’s Hardware.”

“It—” I cleared my throat. “It must be hard for you to see the place change hands. I—”

Mr. Enright shook his head. “No . . . not that. Something else. We needa talk.”

I glanced around and was relieved to see Blake coming to my rescue.

“Hey, Tim! How’re you doing?” He put his arm around Mr. Enright’s shoulders and propelled him away from me.

“I needa talk to her,” Mr. Enright said. “Gotta tell her.”

“Aw, that can wait, man. Come on over and check out the refreshments.”

Mr. Enright tried to turn back to me, but Blake had a firm grip and led him over to the counter.

I had no idea why Mr. Enright would want to talk with me. I was giving that some thought when Sadie came over with a slender woman with salt-and-pepper hair and small round glasses. The woman wore a white knee-length tunic and scarf over matching pants.

“Marcy, I’d like you to meet Regina Singh.”

“Please call me ‘Reggie,’” the woman said. “Everyone does.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Reggie.”

“Likewise. I love to embroider—” She held out the end of her scarf to reveal intricately embroidered white orchids. “So I know you and I will get on swimmingly.”

“I’m sure we will.” I took a closer look at her scarf. “This is chikankari, isn’t it?” Chikankari is a traditional form of white-on-white embroidery from India. “You do lovely work.”

“Thank you.”

Reggie seemed pleased that I recognized her form of embroidery.

“Reggie is the local librarian,” Sadie said.

“Then I’m sure we’ll see a lot of each other,” I said with a laugh. “I love to read. And I love looking through art books for embroidery ideas.”

“I do, too,” Reggie said. “I wish my husband could’ve been here tonight, but he’s on duty. He’s the police chief.”

“That must be an exciting job,” I said.

“It has its moments, I guess. Manu loves it, but the hours can be a pain.”

“Speaking of being a pain, what’s with Tim Enright this evening?” Sadie asked. “He looks horrible.”

“This is the first time I’ve ever met him,” I said. I bit my lower lip. “Does he drink a lot?”

Reggie shook her head. “I’ve known Timothy for more than twenty years, and I’ve never known him to take a drink.”

Before either Sadie or I could respond, a heavyset woman with short curly brown hair interrupted. She wore a severe black suit and pumps. The suit seemed to belie the woman’s outgoing personality.

“Excuse me,” she said, “I’m Vera Langhorne. I have to run, but I didn’t want to leave before meeting the guest of honor.” She shook my hand warmly.

“Thank you so much for coming tonight, Mrs. Langhorne,” I said. “I do hope you’ll come back when we have more time to visit.”

“Oh, I will. I’ve signed up for one of your classes. I’m looking forward to it.”

“So am I,” Marcy said.

As Mrs. Langhorne walked away, Timothy Enright approached me and took me by the arm. “Come ‘ere. Gotta tell you.”

“Please, Mr. Enright,” I began. “I’m sorry I—”

“Tim!” It was Todd Crowell. “How’ve you been?” He widened his eyes at me and led Tim Enright away. “What’ve you been up to these days?”

Mr. Enright turned back to me, his eyes pleading. I’d have felt sorry for him if I weren’t so frightened by his behavior. Since I was frightened, I took the opportunity to walk away and lose myself in the crowd.

* * *

Two hours later, everyone except Sadie, Blake, Todd, Angus and I had gone. I slipped off my shoes and padded around in my stocking feet while helping Blake and Sadie clean up.

“Ms. Singer,” Todd said, “I believe your open house was a rousing success.”

“Thank you. I do, too. Look at how many people signed up for embroidery classes.”

Sadie looked over my shoulder at the list. “Impressive.”

Suddenly, we heard a thud. It appeared to have come from the back of the building.

“What was that?” I asked.

“Probably just a dog turning over a trash can,” Blake said.

“We get that a lot,” Sadie said. “If you throw any food in the garbage cans out back, be sure to double bag it.”

“Or even triple bag it,” Todd said. “Because of the bears.”

“Bears?”

“Oh, sure. They come scrounging around every now and then.” He caught Blake’s eye and grinned. “In fact, I should probably walk you out to your car just in case that was a bear.”

The next morning, it became clear that a bear had not caused the thud we’d heard. Timothy Enright had.

# # #

Visit Gayle Trent/Amanda Lee online at http://www.gayletrent.com. To order a copy of The Quick and The Thread, please go to Amazon, Books-A-Million, Barnes and Noble, or order from your local bookseller. Thank you for your interest in The Quick and The Thread!

Murder_Takes_The_Cake“For people who love a tasty cake and a cozy murder mystery, Murder Takes the Cake is a delicious read.” -Suzanne Pitner, Suite101.com
 
“The breezy story line is fun to follow…Daphne is a solid lead character as she follows the murder recipe one step at a time to the delight of sub-genre readers.” – Harriet Klausner, The Mystery Gazette
Special Note: Amazon is offering Murder Takes the Cake for only $1.99 in Kindle form for the month of August. Take advantage of this special pricing while you can!

Chapter One

“Mrs. Watson?” I called, banging on the door again. I glanced up at the ever-blackening clouds. Although I had Mrs. Watson’s cake in a box, it would be my luck to get caught in a downpour with it. This was my third attempt to please her, and I couldn’t afford another mistake on the amount she was paying me. Whoever said “the customer is always right” had obviously never dealt with Yodel Watson.

I heard something from inside the house and pressed my ear against the door. A vision of my falling into the living room and dropping the cake when Mrs. Watson flung open the door made me rethink that decision.

“Mrs. Watson?” I called again.

“Come in! It’s open! Come in!”

I tried the knob and the door was indeed unlocked. I stepped inside but couldn’t see Mrs. Watson. “It’s me—Daphne Martin. I’m here with your cake.”

“Come in! It’s open!”

“I am in, Mrs. Watson. Where are you?”

“It’s open!”

“I know! I—” Gritting my teeth, I walked through the living room and placed the cake on the kitchen table. A quick glance around the kitchen told me Mrs. Watson wasn’t in there either.

“It’s open!”

Man, could this lady get on your nerves. I decided to follow the voice. It came from my left, so I eased down the hallway.

“Mrs. Watson?”

On my right, there was a den. I poked my head inside.

“Come in!”

I turned toward the voice. A gray parrot was sitting on its perch inside its cage.

“It’s open!” the bird squawked.

“I noticed.” Great. She’s probably not home, and I’ll get arrested for breaking and entering…though technically, I didn’t break….

It was then I saw Mrs. Watson lying on the sofa in a faded navy robe. There was a plaid blanket over her legs. She appeared to be sleeping, but I’d heard the parrot calling when I was outside. No way could Mrs. Watson be in the same room and sleep through that racket.

I stepped closer. “Are you okay?” Her pallor told me she was not okay. Then the foul odor hit me.

I backed away and took my cell phone out of my purse. “I’m calling 9-1-1, Mrs. Watson. Everything’s gonna be all right.” I don’t know if I was trying to reassure her or myself.

Everything’s gonna be all right. I’d been telling myself that for the past month.

I lingered in the doorway in case Mrs. Watson would wake up and need something before the EMTs arrived.

I turned forty this year. Forty seems to be a sobering age for every woman, but it hit me especially hard. When most women get to be my age, they at least have some bragging rights: successful career, happy marriage, beautiful children, nice home. I had none of the above. My so-called bragging rights included a failed marriage, a dingy apartment, and twenty years’ service in a dead-end job. Cue violins.

When my sister Violet called and told me about a “charming little house” for sale near her neighborhood, I jumped at the chance to leave all the dead ends of middle Tennessee and come home to southwest Virginia. Surely, something better awaited me here.

So far, I’d moved into my house—which I recently learned came with a one-eyed stray cat—and started a cake decorating business. A great deal of my time had involved coming up with a name, a logo, getting business cards made up, setting up a Web site and other “fun” administrative duties. The cake and cupcakes I’d made for my niece and nephew to take to school on Halloween had been a hit, though, and had led to some nice word-of-mouth advertising and a couple orders. Leslie’s puppy dog cake and Lucas’ black cat cupcakes were the first additions to my Web site’s gallery.

Sadly, my first customer had been Yodel Watson. She’d considered herself a world-class baker in her hey-day but no longer had the time or desire to engage in “such foolishness.”

“I want you to make me a cake for my Thanksgiving dinner,” she’d said. “Nothing too gaudy. I want my family to think I made it myself.”

My first two attempts had been refused: the first cake was too fancy; the second was too plain. I’d been hoping—praying—third time would be the charm. Now the laboriously prepared spice cake with cream cheese frosting decorated with orange and red satin ribbons for a bottom border and a red apple arranged in a flower petal pattern on top was on Mrs. Watson’s kitchen table. Mrs. Watson herself was lying on her den sofa as deflated as a December jack-o-lantern. Oh, yeah, things were looking up.

I was startled out of my reverie by a sharp rap.

“EMT!”

“Come in! It’s open!” the bird called.

I hurried to the living room to open the door, and two men with a stretcher brushed past me.

“Where’s the patient?” one asked.

“Back here.” I led the way to the den, and then got out of the way.

“Come in!”

I moved next to the bird cage. “Don’t you ever shut up? This is serious.”

“I’ll say,” agreed one of the EMTs. “Are you the next of kin?”

“Excuse me?” My hand flew to my throat. “She’s dead?”

“Yes, ma’am. Are you related to her?”

While the one EMT was questioning me, the other was on the radio asking dispatch to send the police and the coroner.

“I don’t know anything,” I said. “I just brought the cake.”

* * *

After calling in the reinforcements, the EMT’s sent me back to the living room. They didn’t get any argument from me. I sat down on the edge of a burgundy wingback chair and studied the room.

It was a formal living room; and on my previous visits, I’d only been just inside the front door. This room was a far cry from the den. The den was lived in. Ugh. Bad choice of words.

This room seemed as sterile as an operating room. There was an elaborate Oriental rug over beige carpet, a pale blue sofa, a curio cabinet with all sorts of expensive-looking knick-knacks. Unlike the den, this room was spotless.

Except for that.

Near my right foot was a small yellow stain. Parrot pee, I supposed. Still, even if Mrs. Watson had allowed the bird outside its cage, I’d have thought this room would’ve been off limits.

Maybe that’s what killed her. Maybe she came in here and saw bird pee in her perfect room and had a heart attack. Then she returned to the den to collapse so as not to further contaminate the room.

Funny thing, though; I didn’t even know Mrs. Watson had a bird until today.

“Ms. Martin?”

I looked up. It was one of the deputies.

“Yes?”

“I’m Officer Hayden, and I need to ask you some questions.”

“Um…sure.” This guy looked young enough to be my son—scratch that, nephew—and he still made me nervous.

“Tell me about your arrival, ma’am.”

Ma’am. Like I was seventy. Of course, when you’re twelve, everybody looks old.

I cleared my throat. “I, uh, knocked on the door, and someone told me to come in. I thought it was Mrs. Watson, so I opened the door and came on inside.” I pointed toward the kitchen table. “I’m Daphne of Daphne’s Delectable Cakes.” I patted my pockets for my business card holder but realized I must have left it in the car. “I brought the cake.”

Officer Hayden took out a notepad. “Let me get this straight. Someone else was here when you arrived?”

“No…no, it was the bird. The bird hollered and told me to come in.”

He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“I thought it was her, though.” Please, God, don’t let me get arrested. “It told me the door was open, and it was.”

Officer Hayden opened his eyes.

Never being one to know when to shut up, I reiterated, “I just brought the cake.”

* * *

About an hour later, I pulled into my driveway. I didn’t make it to the front door before I heard my next-door-neighbor calling me.

“Hello, Daphne! I see you’re bringing home another cake.”

“Afraid so.”

She beat me to the porch. For a woman in her sixties, Myra Jenkins was pretty quick. “What was wrong with this one?”

I handed Myra the cake and unlocked the door. “Um…she didn’t say.”

“She didn’t say?” Myra wiped her feet on the mat and followed me inside.

I dropped my purse onto the table by the door. I let Myra hang onto the cake. She’d kept the other two rejects. I figured she’d take this one, too.

I went into the kitchen and took two diet sodas from the fridge. I handed Myra a soda, popped the top on the other, and took a long drink before dropping into a chair.

“This is beautiful,” Myra said, after opening the cake box and peering inside. “What kind of cake is it?”

“Spice. The icing is cream cheese.”

Myra ran her finger through the frosting on the side of the cake and licked her finger. “Mmm, this is out of this world. You know the Save-A-Buck sometimes takes baked goods on commission, don’t you?”

“No, I didn’t know that.”

She nodded. “They don’t keep a bakery staff, so they sometimes buy cakes, cookies, doughnuts—stuff like that—from the locals and sell them in their store.”

“I’ll definitely look into that.

“You should.” She put the lid down on the box. “Are you going to take this one?”

“No,” I said, thinking her poking the side had already nullified that possibility. “Why don’t you take it?”

“Thank you. I believe I’ll serve this one and the white one with the raspberry filling for Thanksgiving and save the chocolate one for Christmas.” She smiled. “Do I owe you anything?”

“Yes. Good publicity. Sing my praises to the church group, the quilting circle, the library group, and any other social cause you’re participate in.”

“Will do, honey. Will do.”

“Um…how well do you know Yodel Watson?” I asked.

Myra pulled out a chair and sat down. “About as well as anybody in this town, I reckon. Why?”

“She….” I sighed. “She’s dead.”

She gasped. “What happened? Car wreck? You know, she drives the awfulest car I’ve ever seen. All the tires are bald, the—”

“It wasn’t a car wreck,” I interrupted. “When I went to her house, I thought she told me to come in, so—”

“Banjo.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“It was probably Yodel’s bird Banjo tellin’ you to come in.”

“Right. It was. So, uh, I went in and…and found Mrs. Watson in the den.”

“And she was dead?”

I nodded.

“Was she naked?”

“No! She had on a robe and was covered with a blanket. Why would you think she was naked?”

Myra shrugged. “When people find dead bodies in the movies, the bodies are usually naked.” She opened her soda. “So what happened?”

“I don’t know. Since there was no obvious cause of death, she’s being sent for an autopsy.”

“Were there any opened envelopes lying around? Maybe somebody sent Yodel some of that amtrax stuff.”

“I don’t think it was anthrax,” I said. “I figure she had a heart attack or an aneurysm or something.”

“Don’t be too sure.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because Yodel was mean.” Myra took a drink of her soda. “Heck, you know that.”

I shook my head and tried to steer the conversation away from murder. “Who’d name their daughter Yodel?”

“Oh, honey.”

In the short time I’ve lived here, I’ve already learned that when Myra Jenkins says Oh, honey, you’re in for a story.

“The Watsons yearned to follow in the Carter family’s footsteps,” she said. “Yodel’s sisters were Melody and Harmony, and her brother was Guitar. Guitar Refrain Watson—Tar, for short.”

I nearly spit diet soda across the table. “You’re kidding.”

“No, honey, I’m not. Trouble was, nary a one of them Watsons had any talent. When my daughter was little, she’d clap her hands over her ears and make the most awful faces if we happened to sit behind them in church. Just about anybody can sing that ‘praise God from Whom all blessings flow’ song they sing while takin’ the offering plates back up to the alter, but the Watsons couldn’t. And the worst part was every one of them sang out loud and proud. Loud, proud, off-key and tone deaf.” She smiled. “I have to admit, though, the congregation as a whole said a lot more silent prayers in church before Mr. and Mrs. Watson died and before their young-uns—all but Yodel—scattered here and yon. ‘Lord, please don’t let the Watsons sit near us.’ ‘Lord, please stop up my ears just long enough to deliver me from sufferin’ through another hymn.’ ‘Lord, please give Tar laryngitis for forty-five minutes.’”

We both laughed.

“That was ugly of me to tell,” Myra said. “But it’s true! Still, I’ll have to ask forgiveness for that. I always did wonder if God hadn’t blessed any of them Watsons with musical ability because they’d tried to write their own ticket with those musical names. You know what I mean?”

“I guess you’ve got a point there.”

“Anyhow, back to Yodel. Yodel was jealous of China York because China could sing. The choir director was always getting China to sing solos. China didn’t care for Yodel because Yodel was spiteful and mean to her most of the time. It seemed Yodel couldn’t feel good about herself unless she was puttin’ somebody else down.”

“She must’ve felt great about herself every time I brought a cake over,” I muttered. “Sorry. Go on.”

“Well, a few years ago, our old preacher retired and we got a new one. Of course, we threw him a potluck howdy-get-to-know-you party at the church. It was summer, and I took a strawberry pie. I make the best strawberry pies. I’d thought about making one for Thanksgiving, but I don’t have to now that you’ve given me all these cakes. I do appreciate it.”

I waved away her gratitude. “Don’t mention it.”

“Anyhow, China brought a chocolate and coconut cake. She’d got the recipe out of McCall’s magazine and was just bustin’ to have us all try out this cake. Wouldn’t you know it? In waltzed Yodel with the very same cake.”

“If she loved to bake so much, I wonder why she gave it up. She told me she didn’t have time to bake these days. Was she active in a lot of groups? I mean, what took up so much of her time?”

“Keeping tabs on the rest of the town took up her time. When Arlo was alive—he was a Watson, too, of course, though no relation…except maybe really distant cousins once or twice removed or something…. There’s more Watsons in these parts than there are chins…at a fat farm. Is that how that saying goes?”

“I think it’s more Chins than a Chinese phone book.”

“Huh. I don’t get it. Anyhow, Arlo expected his wife to be more than the town gossip. That’s when Yodel prided herself on her cooking, her volunteer work and all the rest. When he died—oh, I guess it was ten years ago—she gave all that up.” She shook her head. “Shame, too. But, back to the story. Yodel told the new preacher, ‘Wait until you try this cake. It’s my very own recipe.’

‘It is not,’ China said. “You saw me copy that recipe out of McCall’s when we were both at the beauty shop waitin’ to get our hair done!’

‘So what if I did?’ Yodel asked.

‘You had to have heard me tell Mary that I was making this cake for the potluck.’

Oooh, China was boiling. But Yodel just shrugged and said, ‘I subscribe to McCall’s. How was I supposed to know you’d be making a similar cake?’

China got right up in Yodel’s face and hollered, ‘It’s the same cake!’

Yodel said it wasn’t. She said, ‘I put almonds and a splash of vanilla in mine. Otherwise that cake would be boring and bland.’

At this point, the preacher tried to intervene. ‘They both look delicious,’ he told them, ‘and I’m sure there are enough of us here to eat them both.’

Yodel’s and China’s eyes were locked like two snarling dogs, and I don’t believe either of them heard a word he said. China had already set her cake on the table, but Yodel was still holding hers. China calmly placed her hand on the bottom of Yodel’s cake plate and upended that cake right on Yodel’s chest.”

I giggled. “Really?”

“Really. And then China walked to the door and said, ‘I’ve had it with her. I won’t be back here until one of us is dead.’ And she ain’t been back to church since.”

“Wow,” I said. “That’s some story.”

“Makes you wonder if China finally got tired of sitting home by herself on Sunday mornings.”

Seeing how serious Myra looked, I stifled my laughter. “Do you honestly think this woman has been nursing a grudge all these years and killed Mrs. Watson rather than simply finding herself another church?”

“There’s not another Baptist church within ten miles of here.” She finished off her soda. “People have killed for crazier reasons than that, haven’t they?”

“I suppose, but—”

“And if it wasn’t China York, I can think of a few other folks who had it in for Yodel.”

“Come on. I’ll admit she’s been a pain to work with on these cakes, but I have a hard time casting Mrs. Watson in the role of Cruella de Vil.”

Myra got up and put her empty soda can in the garbage. “I didn’t say she made puppy coats. I said there were a lot of people who’d just as soon not have Yodel Watson around.”

* * *

I was relieved when Myra left. She seemed to be a good person, and I liked her; but she could be a bit much. Everything had to be so dramatic with her. She even had me wondering whether or not poor Mrs. Watson died of natural causes.

I got up and walked down the hall to my office. It had a sofa bed to double as a guest room if need be. Other than that, it held a desk, a file cabinet and a bookcase full of cookbooks, cake decorating books, small business books, marketing books and one photograph of me with Lucas and Leslie. The photo had been taken last year when I was at Violet’s house for Christmas.

I booted up the computer. As always, I checked my e-mail first. E-mail is a procrastinator’s dream come true.

There was a message from my friend Bonnie, still holding down the fort at the company I’d worked for in Tennessee.

Hey, girl! Are you up to your eyebrows in cake batter? I can think of worse predicaments. We get off half a day Wednesday. I can hardly wait. Do you have tons of orders to fill before Thursday? I hope so. I mean, I hope business is off to a good start but that you have time to enjoy the holiday, too. I really miss you, Daph. Write when you can and fill me in on everything, especially whether or not any of your neighbors are HAGS!

I smiled. HAG was our acronym for Hot Available Guys. It wasn’t a flattering acronym, but it worked.

I marked the e-mail as unread and neglected to reply until I had better news to report. As I deleted my junk messages, I thought about Bonnie. She and I had met while I was taking culinary classes at a local college. She was taking business courses and was desperate to get into the field I wanted out of so badly. We met one evening because we were two of the oldest people in the student lounge. That night even the faculty members present were in their twenties! Bonnie and I were both in our early thirties, and after that initial meeting we had fun people-watching over coffee before all our evening classes.

When a job came open at our company, Bonnie applied and got the job. I was glad. It wasn’t long after she got the job that my college days came to an abrupt end. Not believing that I could actually be good—make that great—at something, dear hubby Todd came by the school one evening and saw Chef Pierre. Admittedly, Chef Pierre was impressive in every way, but Bonnie and I had already dubbed him a HUG—Hot Unavailable Guy. Chef Pierre was married, had three young children and was devoted to his lovely wife. Todd couldn’t get past the chef’s stellar looks though; and since I was the chef’s star student, Todd thought I had to be sleeping with the man. He’d made me drop out.

By then I’d been bitten by the baking bug. I watched TV chefs, bought books—including cake decorating course books, rented how-to videos, and practiced decorating every chance I got. I’d practice on vinyl placemats. And I’d tell myself “someday.” Now it seemed my “someday” had come. I am an excellent cake decorator, I’d finally taken a chance, and I was finally tuning out Todd’s taunting voice in my head. I was believing in myself for the first time in years. I knew I could make this business work.

The phone rang. It was Violet.

“Hey, I heard about Mrs. Watson. You must’ve freaked out when you found her.”

“How’d you know?”

“I saw Bill Hayden’s wife at the school when I picked up Leslie and Lucas this afternoon.”

Bill Hayden. Officer Bill Hayden. Married…and with children. He must be older than he looked.

“Why didn’t you call me?” Violet was asking.

“I don’t know.” Because you’re perfect; and in three years when you turn forty, all you’ll have to be concerned about is laugh lines? Because I didn’t come back home because I need a babysitter? Because I promised myself I wouldn’t be the one thorn in your bouquet of roses? “Myra came over as soon as I got home, so I really didn’t have a chance to call.”

“No, I don’t suppose you did. Did you tell her about Yodel?”

“Yeah. Was that all right?”

“I guess so. It’ll be in the paper tomorrow anyway.”

“Plus, it’s a really small town, Vi. There were probably a dozen messages on Myra’s answering machine when she got back home. I mean, you heard it at the school, right?”

“I didn’t mean anything by it,” Violet said. “I’m merely cautioning you to be careful of what you say to Myra.”

“With Myra, I find myself mostly listening.”

“I know that’s true.” Violet laughed. “I’m only asking you to be careful. As a witness in a homicide investigation, you have to watch what you say to the general public.”

“A homicide investigation? The coroner didn’t send the woman’s body to Roanoke for autopsy until this afternoon. The results couldn’t possibly be in.”

“No, of course not, but Joanne told me Bill said there were indications of foul play.”

“Is that ethical?”

“He only told his wife, Daphne.”

“And she told you and who knows who else. What is it with small town dramas?”

“Excuse me, Ms. Big City. I forgot how boring we must be to you now.”

“That’s not what I meant. I just think Officer Hayden should learn a bit about confidentiality, that’s all.”

“Please don’t get him in trouble.”

“I won’t. I—”

“Let’s talk about Thursday. What time will you be here?”

“I was thinking eleven, but I can come earlier if you’d like.”

“No. Eleven’s good. Mom’s spending the night, so I’ll have plenty of help in the kitchen.”

“Then eleven it is.”

After talking with Violet, I went out the kitchen door to sit on the side porch. It was cool outside, but I had on a jacket. Plus, I was feeling a little sorry for myself and felt better in the big wide open than I did in an empty house.

Violet did have a lot to be proud of. She’d been married for the past fifteen years to a dreamboat of a guy. She had gorgeous eleven-year-old boy/girl twins. She was a successful realtor. She had a lovely home. She had curly blonde hair, blue eyes and a bubbly personality; as opposed to my straight dark brown hair, brown eyes, and more serious demeanor. And she had a great relationship with Mom.

I’d been married for ten years to an abusive manipulator who is currently serving a seven-year term in prison for assault with a deadly weapon after shooting at me. Fortunately, he’d missed; and, in my opinion, he was sentenced to far too little time simply because his aim was off. He’d called it a “mistake.” Whether he meant shooting at me or missing, I have no idea. Mom called the whole ordeal a mistake, too. Neither of them could understand why I filed for divorce.

“He said he was sorry,” Mom had scolded me over the phone. “You made the man angry, Daphne. You know how you can be. A person can only take so much.”

I’d hung up on her. A person could only take so much. That was nearly five years ago.

I heard a plaintive meow and looked up to see the fluffy gray and white, one-eyed stray sitting a short distance away.

“Me, too, baby,” I told the cat softly. “Me, too.”

# # #

Visit Gayle at http://www.gayletrent.com. If you’d like to take advantage of Amazon’s special offer, please go to Amazon Kindle. To buy a hard copy book, you may do so at Amazon, Books-A-Million, Barnes & Noble, or your local independent bookseller.  Thank you so much for your interest in Murder Takes the Cake!

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